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As some of you may already know, family names precede given names in Eastern Asian culture, and furthermore given names (e.g., Lingfeng) are more differentiable than family names (e.g., Li). This is quite the opposite of Western names.

As an Eastern Asian who just started my career in academia, I am seriously considering publishing my future papers under Li Lingfeng instead of Lingfeng Li (just an example). To me the benefits are two-fold.

  • This preserves my culture better, and I don't think nowadays Westerners will have problems identifying my family name is actually Li. I guess they are already familiar with this name format, given that in mainstream news (such as BBC or CNN), Chinese names always appear in its original form, e.g., Mao Zedong rather than Zedong Mao?
  • Citation Li et al., 2016 is way less distinguishable than Lingfeng et al., 2016. It's every researcher's dream to get famous. I think this at least helps clear some ambiguity?

Will this unconventional way of writing my name cause trouble in my future academic career? What are the foreseeable hassles that it may bring?

It will be even more amazing if someone could also help me with this bonus question: for immigration purpose, will it cause me any trouble if my publication records don't match exactly my foreign IC that writes Lingfeng Li?

1 Answer 1

family names precede given names in Eastern Asian culture

... and in Hungarian, and possibly some other languages.

As an Eastern Asian who just started my career in academia, I am seriously considering publishing my future papers under Li Lingfeng instead of Lingfeng Li (just an example).

I am not sure this is possible: I have come across various paper styleguides that explicitly requested the given name to come before the surname (or, equivalently, to list the given name first, but then add a comma, to indicate the "original" order of name parts has been changed). For example:

Now, if you switch the order based upon whether adherence to a specific order is required, this can easily create more confusion than always going with the given name - surname order.

I don't think nowadays Westerners will have problems identifying my family name is actually Li. I guess they are already familiar with this name format, given that in mainstream news (such as BBC or CNN), Chinese names always appear in its original form, e.g., Mao Zedong rather than Zedong Mao?

While BBC and CNN might do so, there are many news outlets that are "mainstream" in their respective countries or language areas. Are you sure they all follow this convention?

In any case, I am not convinced this is evident at all to a "Western" audience. I wouldn't be surprised if quite some people interpreted a mention of "Mao Zedong" to mean that "Mao" is the given name and "Zedong" is the surname, thus remaining oblivious to the (from their point of view) "unusual" ordering and getting the name wrong.

Citation Li et al., 2016 is way less distinguishable than Lingfeng et al., 2016. It's every researcher's dream to get famous. I think this at least helps clear some ambiguity?

I am not sure about famous as such (which somewhat implies a general audience), but let's say most researchers would wish for their name to be known in their community and associated with certain findings.

While I agree with the issue you outline, my understanding is that you use the surname in citations, no matter in which position it is shown. So, the citation for a paper by "Li Linfeng" would still be "Li et al., 2016". (And then, some might not recognize the ordering and indeed cite "Linfeng et al., 2016", thereby creating confusion again).

To conclude, I fully agree with the problems you outline1, and I do think this is a problem that to date does not yet have a satisfactory solution in the academic publishing world. However, just using the surname - given name ordering as an individual will probably just create new problems rather than making everything nice and tidy.

1: with the restriction that I find terms like Asian and Westerners overly generalizing in this context. As mentioned above, there are also Western cultures with the surname - given name ordering, and also, while many Chinese surnames may allow for relatively little distinction, I am not sure the same can be said about Thai surnames, for instance.